An important study, published in September 2014, showed that children who live in a family with married parents are better behaved, and have higher educational and employment attainment, than classmates brought up by unmarried parents.
The government-backed research – part of the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project – analysed data from 3,000 children from early years up to 16.
The study identified a number of factors influencing future education and employment success. These factors included size of family (children from smaller families tended to out-perform those from larger families) and the provision of pre-school education. However, the researchers found that family influences were the strongest predictors of future success.
As well as documenting success in examinations, the research also covered children’s “self-regulation” (confidence, taking responsibility and showing leadership) and ‘pro-social behaviour’ (ability to share, apologise, display sympathy and be kind to younger children). ‘Hyperactivity’ and ‘anti-social behaviour’ were also covered.
Among the conclusions was the finding that ‘the marital status of parents in the early years, when children were first recruited to the study, was…a significant predictor of changes in self-regulation and pro-social behaviour during secondary education.
On the other hand, ‘single parent status…predicted increases in hyperactivity in adolescence and anti-social behaviour. Students in lone parent families showed small but statistically significant increases in both negative behaviours and decreases in both positive behaviours.’
‘In addition, students of parents who were living with their partner but unmarried in the early years were found to show small decreases in self-regulation and pro-social behaviour and an increase in hyperactivity.’
Professor Edward Melhuish, of Birkbeck, University of London, commented: “The extra support from living in a stable marital home tends to lead to a better environment over the long term for the child.”